The Vinyl Word

(With apologies to Tim Daugherty*)

Growing up, all I knew knew of music was vinyl. My mother had one of those big console stereos from the 1960s. Unfortunately for me, she played Eddie Arnold, Elvis, Loretta Lynn, and Johnny Cash over. And over. And over. But when I received my first real album, the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, I discovered how good that console really was. And then I got Blondie. And I got Pat Benatar. I tried to get my mother to buy me Led Zeppelin, but apparently that was devil music. Somehow, I scored KISS Rock and Roll Over.

By the time I graduated high school, all the stylin’ music buffs had boom boxes. Which meant we listened to cassette. And I went up to my grandmother’s to listen to my uncle’s rather elaborate sound system to listen to his cassettes. Tom Petty, Rolling Stones, Frampton Comes Alive. I started to move away from vinyl. Besides, cars had cassette decks. The older ones I owned I used the boom box. And so, throughout the nineties, various cars I owned ate the entire Led Zeppelin collection several times over. But at home, I’d moved onto CDs. And then came iTunes and the iPod, which at one point was my most prized possession. And then came streaming.

But until lossless streaming came about, digital lacked something. Cassettes hissed and would get watery sounding over time. CDs could be bright and clear in a way cassettes couldn’t, but the chords and harmonies didn’t blend as well. MP3s, because of the compression, took much of the power out of the music. iTunes, and MP4s, put some of it back in, but it was still compressed sound files.

You’d think the Great Tom Waits Love Fest of the mid-2000s would have convinced me to come back to vinyl. A writer bud raved about how great Waits sounded on vinyl. Another friend from church waxed rhapsodic about listening to Miles and Coltrane on vinyl. And a coworker refused to listen to anything at home except vinyl, though I’ve heard him tell Alexa to play certain lists.

And then the Pint-Sized Miracle who is my wife overheard me say, “It’d be kind of cool to have a turntable.” That Christmas, I found a cheap Crosley under the tree with a stack of records. She and my stepson Matt made some good guesses as to what I liked. I was particularly happy to see Billy Joel’s Glass Houses, ZZ Top’s de Guello, and Blondie’s Eat to the Beat. Does my wife love me or what? I plugged the thing into my computer, found a sound package I liked, and went to town. Over the ensuing months, I played around with various speaker arrangements, even letting the Crosley play through its own built-in speakers. It’s a work in progress, and I’ve warned my wife it will never be finished.

But I’ve also developed an addiction. I immediately went to Metamodern Music, where the Mrs. bought my starter collection. I returned to Cincinnati’s Everybody’s Records for the first time in about 20 years. They’re booming now! Even after the pandemic. During the family trip to San Francisco in 2019, I even made the pilgrimage to Haight-Ashbury (only after my third visit to the city) and found Amoeba Music, where I bought vinyl. I even used my Amazon Prime account to quench my addiction.

More recently, I found Earworm Music in nearby Milford, where not only have I dropped more money than I should have, so has my wife, who loads up on $50 worth of country CDs every trip. So why would I go back to a format that I used to complain sounded like Rice Krispies set to heavy metal after three plays?

Well, in the eighties, LPs were pressed on flimsy cheap vinyl. Leave it in the car too long bringing it home, and they warp. If you have a cheap turntable (I mean really cheap), they skip or slide after a few plays. Today? Well, some of the used records are still on that cheap vinyl. That’s what happens when you buy used records. Yet most new records are on 180g vinyl, which have a bit of heft to them. I also bought some old Tony Bennett and Ella Fitzgerald. Ella’s album was pressed in the fifties. If you remember 78s, you might be forgiven to think her album was in that format.

So what are my favorites?

  • Abbey Road The Beatles – The best and the last of the Beatles, one for the road and the perfect capper for an incredible run. All four of the Beatles are at their peak on this song, even Ringo with his deceptively childlike “Octopus’s Garden.” However, the Side 2 medley is one of the greatest achievements in rock history.
  • Dark Side of the Moon Pink Floyd – Duh. I’ve had this in every format, and while you could get it at Walmart, I bought it at Amoeba. They say you haven’t listened to Pink Floyd’s masterpiece until you’ve listened to it on vinyl with the lights off. They were right. I did it right after I got back from San Fran. It was up there with the time my cousin Mike Rose played Dark Side on Akron’s WONE during a lunar eclipse.
  • Ultimate Sinatra Frank Sinatra – If you want a good overview of Ol’ Blue Eyes, this is it. All that’s missing is “New York, New York.”
  • Kind of Blue Miles Davis – This is the bebop era defined. Along with John Coltrane’s Blue Train, this is a timeless classic, understated the way the King Crimsonesque Bitch’s Brew is bombastic. (Yes, I know. Fripp was still a teenager when Bitch’s Brew came out.) Davis was a genius. This is doubled with Coltrane also sitting in. Worth it just for “So What?” and “All Blues.”
  • Now and Then Paul Stanley’s Soul Station – If you told me this time last year that my favorite album in my collection would be by a member of KISS, I’d have laughed. Derisively. And then a friend of mine sent me a video of Paul Stanley’s Motown-loving band, Soul Station, singing “Oh, Child.” My jaw hit the floor. I asked who did the autotune because I couldn’t hear it, Stanley’s voice not really up to singing KISS songs live anymore. No Autotune. Stanley may be struggling with “Detroit Rock City” and “God Gave Rock and Roll to You,” but Motown is perfect for his voice. And the band is perfection. This is a labor of love by a group of musicians who revere the Motown sound. Stanley especially pays homage to the Temptations on his cover of “Just My Imagination,” probably the album’s strongest track.

*Yes, Tim, if you’re reading this, it’s Mike Rose’s cousin from Burbank. Or rather Cincinnati.

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